Group offers blueprint for wise infrastructure investment
A coalition of industry and public interest groups and transportation officials this week issued a set of principles for how the incoming administration and Congress should invest hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure projects as part of an economic stimulus package.
President-elect Obama and Congress are considering spending between $500 billion to $1 trillion to jump start the economy, with much of the money targeted at projects that have already been approved at the state and local level.
The organization, America 2050, said projects must meet new thresholds for accountability, transparency, and economic and environmental performance to qualify for government funding. It summed up its five-point strategy as: Fix, Phase, Green, Train and Count.
“We should only invest in projects that achieve job creation in the short run while creating the foundation for long-term economic success and energy independence,” the statement said. It was signed by 26 individuals and organizations, including Norfolk Southern Corp., a major freight railroad, and Emil Frankel, a consultant and former former assistant secretary for transportation policy in the Department of Transportation.
The group said the government’s first priority should be to fix existing roads, bridges, transit, passenger and freight rail systems and other physical facilities the economy relies on.
The money should be phased in rather than dispersed to local and state governments at once because there are limits to how many projects can be started at once. A series of phases would allow for the development of strategic projects, job training, and the building of capacity in construction, manufacturing, engineering and project management fields, America 2050 said.
Priority should also be given to projects that promote energy independence, safeguard the environment, and reduce sprawl and greenhouse gas emissions.
The group called for investment in job training programs to ensure workers have the necessary skills and projects are efficiently completed.
Some of the funds should be set aside to measure the effectiveness of infrastructure projects against benchmarks such as job creation, cost-effectiveness, greenhouse gas reduction, increased energy efficiency, congestion reduction and other factors.
The coalition said normal state funding formulas and pork barrel spending need to be replaced by a federal oversight committee to streamline the investment process and ensure only significant projects are funded. The idea is similar to a National Infrastructure Bank, or independent commission, proposed by Obama, Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Chuck Hegel, R-Neb., and several studies to channel money to projects that meet national criteria.
And the group proposed creation of a National Recovery and Renewal Council comprised of representatives from the federal, state, and city agencies and private sector that would report directly to the White House on ways to eliminate red tape from the project approval process and establish benchmarks for funding eligibility. ' Eric Kulisch